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290. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Israel and United States Policy

Following our meeting on June 1 to discuss Israel’s security situation we have prepared a revision (attached at Tab A) of the paper on the above subject in line with your comments on the previous version.2 Principal changes are as follows:

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1. Arguments from the US foreign policy point of view in favor of a special national security arrangement with Israel and in favor of supplying the Hawk to Israel have been added. They are few.

2. We prefer that decision on the sale of the Hawk to Israel be deferred for about two years, until after the issue of Israel’s large-scale withdrawal of water from Lake Tiberias has been dealt with. We consider it wise, if possible, to deal with the Arabs on only one major issue at a time. However, we leave the door open against the contingency of earlier UAR/or Syrian acquisition of ground-to-air missiles.

3. We are exploring the possibility of unilaterally reactivating the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 in private statements orally to both Israel and certain Arab states, principally to meet Israel’s desire for a security guarantee.

4. In accordance with your request we are reviewing our policy on the status of Jerusalem and shall provide you shortly a study with recommendations.

At the conference of GTI and NE ambassadors being held in Athens June 12–15, I propose to have a full discussion of principal problems in the Near East. Following my return I shall forward to you such further views as I might have as a result of the conference.

Tab A3


A. Our Posture toward Israel.

Within the limits (described in D. below) dictated by the necessity for a reasonably friendly relationship with most of the Arab states, in order to protect our interest in the Near East, we:

(1) seek to maintain cordial and close relations with Israel;

(2) contribute heavily in money or money equivalents to enable Israel to meet its security and growth (including immigration) objectives without directly implicating the United States on the sensitive aspects;

(3) frequently reassure Israel that it has in effect an unwritten but effective security guarantee from the US, that the Arabs understand this, and that Israel is thus in a position to conduct a policy of restraint;

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(4) encourage other friendly states to assist Israel in meeting its military needs;

(5) encourage Israel to expand its unilateral efforts to earn wider friendship and economic benefits in the community of nations;

(6) support those UN instrumentalities in the Near East which contribute to maintenance of a peaceful condition, and demonstrate support for certain UN resolutions of importance to the world community;

(7) permit Israel to buy, and provide credit for, a wide range of unclassified military equipment and supplies requiring export licenses;

(8) avoid close military relationships and consultations as well as partnership with Israel in ventures outside of Israel; and

(9) undertake a wide range of cultural contacts and placement of many research contracts in Israel.

Each matter arising in our relationship with Israel is carefully weighed in terms of its effect on our policy of impartiality as between Israel and the Arabs and of its effect on Israel’s security. Over a period of years we have come to learn what can be done on behalf of Israel without creating serious tensions with the Arabs.

B. Israel’s Desires and Tactics.

During the first year or so of the Kennedy Administration, Israel appeared principally to watch developments, creating no major issues, but constantly probing relatively gently in such areas as a security guarantee, military equipment, military relationships, economic assistance, cooperation in technical assistance to third countries, and an Israel relationship with the Common Market and the OECD.

Perhaps the opening gun of the current major offensive was the so-called “Brazzaville resolution” of December 1961 inspired originally by Israel and sponsored by 15 other members, principally African, of the General Assembly calling upon Israel and the Arabs to conduct direct peace negotiations for the settlement of the Palestine conflict. US opposition to this resolution has been a source of continuing criticism of the US Government, to a limited extent by Israeli officials, but on a considerable scale by Israel’s American sympathizers. The criticism increasingly has been linked by domestic critics to President Kennedy’s campaign statements calling for a comprehensive settlement in the Near East. Statements are appearing more frequently to the effect that it is time for the President to redeem his campaign pledges.

A steady campaign of criticism has flowed also from the Security Council resolution of April 9 censuring Israel for its retaliatory raid and only deploring Syrian “hostile acts.” Israel’s action is portrayed as being necessary to defense of its security in the absence of prompt and effective UN action.

In addition, fingers are pointed at the hostile propaganda conducted by the Arabs against Israel, the indoctrination of young Arabs with hatred of Israel, the increasing Soviet armaments (particularly [Page 713]aircraft) reportedly being acquired by the UAR and Syria, the strengthening of the UAR by expanded US economic assistance, and the declaration by the Arabs that large-scale withdrawal by Israel in 1963–64 of Jordan waters will be a casus belli.

The ensemble of these arguments appears designed to point to a growing threat to Israel’s security and a need for measures by the US to redress the balance. No doubt Israel is concerned that with an Algerian settlement France will reduce its support. We are sure neither the Israelis nor their supporters in the US believe it possible to achieve a peace settlement in the Near East or to eliminate hostile propaganda or teachings. We have evidence from several sources that Israel expected to be condemned for its retaliatory raid of March 16–17. We believe the Israelis intellectually understand that a better US–UAR relation is useful to Israel. While they are concerned at a possible UAR surprise air strike, they have a variety of means of assuring effective defense. They know that the UAR has the means to acquire Soviet arms whether the US assists the UAR economically or not. The Israelis also know that their water diversion system cannot be damaged seriously from the air and that Syria cannot successfully mount a ground action to destroy the pumping station.

While American Jewry has concentrated on the need for an overall settlement, we believe the recent visit of Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Shimon Peres, has brought into focus the true Israel objectives. Ambassador Harman’s call on you on May 28 tends to confirm our thesis. A principal argument used by both Peres and Harman was that the US, having worsened Israel’s position by aiding the UAR, should now make a compensatory gesture to Israel. The fact that Peres did not mention Israel’s desire for a United States assurance on Israel’s right to Jordan waters may well stem from his understanding that such an assurance will be forthcoming. Mr. Peres’ principal concerns seemed to be a) an arrangement for continuing military consultations between Israel and the US, b) bolstering of Israel’s air defenses by acquisition of the Hawk missile system, and the Minister of the Israeli Embassy proposed in the context of Peres’ visit a c) security guarantee by letter from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion.

Thus, we believe that considerable pressure will be mounted against the Administration domestically in the context of the President’s campaign references to the Near East and in terms of US assistance to the UAR, but that Peres’ objectives are what Israel will really seek. Israel has pressed in past years for both the Hawk missile system and US- Israel military consultations, as well as for a security guarantee. It seems reasonable to assume that in this election year another “college try” will be made by Israel and its supporters here and that a serious effort will be [Page 714]made to show that Israel faces a situation of unusual peril in the next two to three years.

C. Israel’s Security Problem.

The latest “Israel-Arab Situation” report prepared by the intelligence community is dated December 1961. The next revision is due in June. Dealing with military factors alone, the report of last December does indicate certain Israeli vulnerability to air attack, but points to continuation of Israeli air superiority, despite acquisition by the UAR of TU–16 bombers, as a result of Israel’s purchase of Mirage III aircraft, some of which have now been delivered. Israel’s clear military superiority on the ground continues.

We continue to believe there are a number of political and psychological factors which will indefinitely deter the Arabs, principally the UAR and Syria, from undertaking major aggression against Israel, whether by ground attack, by air attack, or by a combination of both:

(1) The Arabs have a deep fear of Israel and its military prowess.

(2) The Arabs fear, with reason, Western intervention on behalf of Israel.

(3) The consequences of defeat would be serious for those Arab leaders responsible for it.

(4) The UAR clearly has given high priority to domestic development for some years to come. The Egyptians have consistently proved capable of calculating coldly where their interests lie and are not controlled by emotions. They now appear to be considering the problem of Israel on a long-range rather than a short-range basis.

(5) A lesson learned by the Arabs in 1948 is that they cannot possibly cope with Israel if their forces are operating independently. Divisive forces in the Arab world are too deep to be overcome in a short time.

(6) The Arabs have come to have more confidence in the US as the US has continued to pursue a balanced policy and to show due regard for Arab interests. As time passes and as our policy is implemented consistently, the Arabs will have greater confidence in our will to prevent expansion by Israel.

(7) We plan to continue inspections of the Dimona reactor by qualified American scientists and, if possible, by “neutrals” as well, and to continue to provide the Arabs with assurances of its peaceful nature. This course of action should be sufficient to remove temptation for a surprise UAR or UAR-Syrian air raid on the reactor.

The foregoing factors must be given heavy weight in assessing Israel’s security situation. In our opinion, Israel is in little actual danger of an Arab assault now and is not likely to be in any real danger over the next few years. In NEA we consider this problem practically daily and are fully alert to all its aspects.

D. The Rationale for Our Policy toward Israel.

Our problems with Israel stem largely from: a) unrequited Israeli desires for the establishment of a special relationship between Israel and [Page 715]the US in matters of national security, and b) Arab-Israel frictions along Israel’s borders. Although Israel has sought US sponsorship of training in Israel for third-country nationals, has proposed cooperative US- Israel ventures in technical aid to third countries, objects to our policy of suggesting to other countries that they establish diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv rather than in Jerusalem, and differs with us on the question of sovereignty over Lake Tiberias, these matters are of relatively minor consequence to the tenor of our relations.

We believe that in seeking continuing military consultations with the US and in proposing periodically a US security guarantee, Israel seeks not only reassurance for its own people, but also a clear demonstration to the Arabs that the US is, in effect, allied with Israel. In requesting the US to supply the Hawk missile system Israel seeks to eliminate any vulnerability it may feel to attack by manned aircraft and thus assure the security of Israel against the Arabs until such time as offensive missile systems may be introduced into the Near East.

(1) Arguments for and against a Special National Security Arrangement with Israel.

a. For

i. From the foreign policy standpoint, there are no advantages.

ii. From a domestic point of view, the American supporters of Israel would be pleased and would be less critical of our policy.

b. Against

i. Would constitute a direct challenge to the Arabs by the US, destroy growing Arab confidence in our impartiality, and remove the protective covering of the UN behind which we deal with most Palestine issues.

ii. Could not be counterbalanced by creation of a corresponding relationship with the Arabs.

iii. Would render the US responsible in Arab eyes for every Israeli military venture.

iv. Would encourage the more fanatical Arabs to seek a similar relationship with the Soviet Union and would hand the Soviets a very useful propaganda weapon.

v. Would be the only US security arrangement with another country not directed against the Sino-Soviet bloc, and would cause us further problems with Pakistan in refusing to take Pakistan’s side in the Kashmir dispute.

vi. Would lead to increasing Israeli demands for sophisticated weapons.

vii. Would put greater pressure on Arab leaders well-disposed toward the US.

viii. Would be unnecessary to maintenance of Israel’s security.

ix. Would pose security problems for DOD.

We believe Israel and its supporters should accept that a reasonably good US-Arab relationship is in Israel’s interest and that Israel’s proposals [Page 716]for a special relationship with the US would be self-defeating if executed. While rarely mentioned, the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 has never been declared dead by the US and could possibly be the basis for providing additional assurances to Israel without provoking the Arabs.

(2) Arguments for and against Supplying the Hawk to Israel.

a. For

i. From the US foreign policy standpoint, possession of the Hawk would strengthen the weak link in Israel’s defenses and thereby reduce any temptation Israel may have to take preemptive offensive action.

ii. From the domestic standpoint, American supporters of Israel would be pleased and would be less critical of US policy.

b. Against

i. Sale of the Hawk would jeopardize the security of its classified elements.

ii. Although the Hawk is a defensive weapon only, its sale to Israel now would pin on the US responsibility for adding a new element of sophistication to weaponry in the Near East and would contribute to heightening of the arms race and the economic burdens attendant thereon. (At such time as the UAR and/or Syria obtains such missiles this factor will cease being a serious one.)

iii. In the interest of impartiality the US would have to consider whether to offer the Hawk to Israel’s Arab neighbors, whose ability to handle it is doubtful. Spreading such weapons around the Near East might place civil aviation in some jeopardy.

iv. The door would be opened to further requests by sophisticated equipment such as air-to-air missiles, also allegedly defensive. We doubt that Israel would rest satisfied with having gotten the Hawk. Rather, it would set a new objective and would not have achieved appeasement or surcease of pressure by Israel.

v. Deterrents against Arab surprise air attack are listed in C. above.

E. How We Propose to Deal with Israel.

(1) We consider it important not to give in to Israeli and domestic pressures for a special relationship in national security matters. To undertake, in effect, a military alliance with Israel would destroy the delicate balance we seek to maintain in our Near Eastern relations.

(2) We believe a decision on sale of the Hawk missile to Israel should be delayed for approximately two years, or, if earlier, until

a) Ground-to-air missiles have been introduced into the area by the Soviets, in which case sale of the Hawk to Israel would be more defensible. Should at any time a decision to sell Israel the Hawk be taken or become likely, we urge that NEA be allowed time to discuss the matter with the UAR and perhaps Syria with a view to reducing reaction to our decision before it becomes public knowledge.

b) In the spring of 1964 Israel presumably will undertake large-scale withdrawal of water from Lake Tiberias. Since this is a matter of [Page 717]importance to the Arabs, we prefer to deal with it without the complications that would ensue from the early provision of the Hawk to Israel.

c) Israel’s Chief of Staff has stated that Israel is not afraid of the Arabs through 1966 and that the Arabs would be no real threat to Israel’s existence up to 1970. If in 1964 Israel continues to have the same problems, i.e., defense against low-flying aircraft, it might prove useful in the next election year to have the Hawk available for discussion.

d) We expect to be able to carry out further inspections of the Dimona reactor and thus to be able to continue to reassure the Arabs. This should serve to remove an Arab fear which might tempt the Arabs otherwise to attempt a surprise air attack on the reactor.

(3) To meet with relatively small risk the Israeli desire for a security guarantee, we are exploring the possibility of a unilateral reactivation of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 (attached Tab B)4 insofar as it pertains to aggression. To do so would avoid the necessity of a new formulation with resultant complications. Tentatively we are considering oral statements to Israel and to certain of the Arabs, without publicity, perhaps tieing our approaches to the Jordan waters problem over which there already has been violence.

(4) NEA gives priority to appropriate assurances to Israel of our support for its right to take an equitable quantity of Jordan waters and to reciprocal assurances from Israel (our memorandum of May 25 to you on this subject attaching a proposed note to Israel is enclosed at Tab C).5 This is an immediate problem which directly engages the US position and prestige with the Arabs and is of the utmost significance to Israel. We cannot afford simultaneously to create other serious issues with the Arabs. In connection with assurances on water we propose to try to persuade Israel (and Syria) to cooperate more fully with the UN mechanisms in the area, and as stated in 3. above we would deal with the problem of a security guarantee in the same context.

(5) We are planning to propose shortly reinstitution of Sixth Fleet visits to Haifa, initially on a modest scale and later an annual visit of a number of units simultaneously. This should remove an element of discrimination and should increase Israel’s sense of security.

(6) We propose to take as liberal a view as possible toward Israel’s requests to purchase military equipment.

(7) In recognition of the heavy cost to Israel of military purchases elsewhere and of resettlement of large numbers of immigrants, we shall support continued economic aid on as large a scale as in past years.

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(8) Should it prove possible to invite Nasser for a state visit next winter, we plan to suggest to the President that he sound out Nasser on the possibility of an informal arms limitation arrangement, or a freezing of armaments at the level then existing.

(9) We have in mind a letter from President Kennedy to Nasser in the late summer and believe a friendly letter to Ben-Gurion about the same time would be useful, particularly if Israel has provided assurances in connection with its water diversion plan and has proved willing to be more cooperative with UNTSO and ISMAC.

(10)As requested by the Secretary, we are reviewing our policy of approaching other governments regarding the status of Jerusalem when those governments are considering the question of where to locate new diplomatic missions.

(11)We propose to continue to oppose initiatives designed to place pressure on the Arabs to undertake direct negotiations with Israel, and at present we are inclined to wish Dr. Johnson to continue his mission on the Arab refugee problem, thus requiring us to continue to urge Israel to cooperate with him.

Our positions will not be fully satisfactory to Israel and its American supporters, but we believe them to be defensible and that they should be maintained as the most suitable to our own national security interests while adequately protecting Israel’s security for a further period. We should not underrate the importance to Israel of an undertaking by the US to support fully Israel’s large-scale withdrawal of water from Lake Tiberias. On this hangs resettlement of at least 500,000 immigrants and the development of the Negev.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/NE Files: Lot 65 D 5, Israel—1962, U.S. Milit. Asst.—Gen. 2-As. Secret. Drafted by Strong.
  2. No earlier draft of the paper has been found.
  3. Secret. Drafted by Strong and concurred in by Elwood (INR/RNA).
  4. Not printed; for text of the May 25, 1950, Tripartite Declaration, see Department of State Bulletin, June 5, 1950, p. 886.
  5. See Tab A to Document 283.